Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Having Neil Young rob his own vaults, as he has with gusto within the past decade, seems like something of a purging, a genuine need for utter and complete transparency as new generations demand the cold openness only Shakey can deliver. And the very best manner in which Young can delve smartly into his back pages, his self-consciousness, and what he calls ”the music of a relationship” is through the rangy instrumental prowess of Crazy Horse. In 2001, when Young recorded and never released Toast, that meant the classic Horse lineup of drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, the ragged twin guitars of Young and Poncho Sampedro, and guests such as Neil’s then-wife Pegi Young and trumpeter Tom Bray.
As far as crafting tangled, snarling, speaker-blown rock is concerned, few could do it as well as Crazy Horse have in the distant past, a welcome sonic blast they and Young reimagine for Toast on the Deep Purple–ish “Standing in the Light of Love” and the snake-charmingly elastic (and 10-minute-long) “Gateway of Love.” One isn’t totally sure how the fuzztone guitars, tin can drums, and jobless logger routine of “Timberline” fits the romantic despair that fills each crevice of Toast, but, nobody said that every brick in Young’s wall had logical forbearance.
For all the banging and clanging they do—to say nothing of their signature nasally off-kilter vocal harmonies—never let it be said that Young and the Horse can’t do nuance or handle near silence with the same raging emotion they do noise and propelled rhythm. “Quit” is the best example of something streamlined and gentle—a cool melodic tone, a sensuous, soft guitar line, and Young crooning a mix of the wonton and woeful with gut-hurt lyrics such as “Hey baby, I’m your man / I know I treated you badly, but I’m doing the best that I can.”
Never shy, Young is eloquent yet spare in his quest to directly articulate his emotions, a Hemingway meets John Lee Hooker type who’ll use fewer words and sharper feelings to get to whatever relationship break Toast is meant to essay. Which is great, especially on the trembling “How Ya Doin?,” Young’s answer to Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No,” and his “Where did all the feelings go / What about that happy glow? / Was that so long ago” rhyme scheme. Then it isn’t so great on the fairly rote finale of “Boom Boom Boom.”
So Toast is a highly personal listening-in on a relationship in decay, a very deep, dark, and mostly great therapy session that won’t be the first time you’ve heard this from Neil. And if Young has any say or reach into his archives, probably not the last.